A number of e-retailers selling VR devices in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, are facing some legal problems for sweetening their deals with free smut, the Xinhua News Agency reported Saturday.
According to prosecutors in the city's Baoan district, three suspects were charged on December 21 for sending customers more than 800 links to online pornography, Xinhua reported Friday.
So far the Shenzhen authorities have charged 19 online vendors with distributing pornographic videos along with their VR devices.
To date, a total of 27 people involved in nine cases have been detained on suspicion of spreading pornography, according to an announcement released by the Shenzhen People's Procuratorate.
All but one of the suspects are under 30, with some younger than 18, the procuratorate said.
Part of the movie
When the Global Times reporter contacted VR retailers on Taobao, China's biggest online shopping website, all the retailers claimed they include free porn with every VR device.
"We give you the movies so you can have an extraordinary experience with our devices. It will feel like you are part of the movie," one retailer told the Global Times.
She claimed giving away porn for free is common practice among VR retail business on Taobao. "Most of the retailers do this, and free porn is a big selling point," she added.
The retailer said she will send customers a hard drive, which contains up to 2 terabytes of pornography, and links to porn videos were sent through QQ messenger or shared via Baidu cloud drive accounts.
"This content is sensitive, we prefer to transfer it to you via chat tools instead of Taobao, which is supervised by Alibaba," said the retailer.
"Many people don't come to buy VR devices. They only want porn. But we cannot sell porn directly, so we combine them, and this can give customers a better experience," another retailer on Taobao told the Global Times.
Some Taobao retailers were pulling in up to 3 million yuan ($432,574) a month by offering free porn videos, a common practice among VR sellers, said the release from Shenzhen People's Procuratorate.
Statistics from Google Trends shows that searches for 'VR porn' have increased by 9,900% over the past 17 months, Business Wire, a US-based business news platform reported in December 2016.
China's Criminal Law stipulates that those disseminating obscene books, magazines, films, audio or video products, pictures, or any other kind of obscene materials can be sentenced to two years in prison or put under criminal detention or surveillance.
Those organizing the broadcasting or showing of obscene motion pictures, video films, or other kinds of audio or video products are to be sentenced to up to three years in prison or put under criminal detention or surveillance, in addition to having to pay a fine, according to the law.
The buyers won't receive punishment unless they disseminate pornography, Wang Zhenyu, deputy director of the Public Decision-Making Research Center at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
The Wall Street Journal estimated in 2016 that VR was very likely to be a tough sell to consumers in the near future, even if it is affordable, for it is a brand new technology and it imposes physical demands on users.
Despite these gloomy predictions aboout individual consumers, the VR industry is actually flourishing in China. Hundreds of VR cinemas, cafes, and "experience rooms" are springing up across the country, offering a VR experience for about the price of a movie ticket.
Companies are investing heavily, and some offer VR headsets for as little as $20. Analysts expect the virtual reality industry in China to reach to US$8.5 billion by 2020, a surge supported by the government as it seeks ways to diversify the economy away from heavy manufacturing.
Many governments are attempting to develop VR to stimulate their economy, according to the People's Daily.
Guizhou Province introduced preferential policies to support VR in 2016, and aims to attract 70 firms with a total production value of 560 million yuan.
Wang Xuru, a manager of a Chongqing technology company, told the Global Times that VR is still at its infant stage.
"Many cheap devices cannot yet be used in other areas to benefit our daily life due to the slow production of VR content in China, and lack of related products," said Wang.